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Conflict is inevitable. One does not have to look far within any organization, be it
religious or otherwise, to find conflict brewing. Interestingly, in communities of faith, conflict is often more intense and prolonged. Perhaps this is attributed to acute spiritual warfare, a misapplication of scriptural teachings, and/or a clash of personalities, redeemed or unredeemed. Norm Shawchuck understands that “Jesus engaged in conflict. Sometimes He started conflict…at other times He resolved conflict. If Jesus could not live in this world without conflict, we might as well accept it – we, too, will have conflict in our churches and ministries.”1 It is important to note that Jesus not only engaged and started conflict, but he also resolved conflict. He, on behalf of his Father, was an agent of reconciliation. Subsequently, he has given us the ministry and the message of reconciliation in order to propagate his heart for unity and restoration in this broken world. This essay will expound upon the ministry and message of reconciliation as spoken of in 2 Corinthians 5. In particular, it will make an important and intriguing connection between reconciliation and a key (and often overlooked) component: death. The preponderance of this essay will unpack the ministry and message of reconciliation with a brief point of application regarding marriage from 1 Corinthians 7:11. But first, we will see how reconciliation is being utilized even within business and modern culture. Reconciliation in Business and Culture As in all of life, businesses experience high levels of conflict and often utilize classic resolution methods including conciliation, mediation, negotiation, arbitration and/or litigation. Quite often we hear of businesses, and individuals as well, engaging the legal system to resolve their conflict. However, there seems to be a growing trend towards reconciliation, beginning with simply saying, “I am sorry.” Reports such as in the case of Ford Motor Co. and Firestone Tires
Norman Shawchuck, How to Manage Conflict in the Church, vol. 1 (Spiritual Growth: 1983), 9.
issuing an apology for an accident involving their products are becoming more common. One particular articles notes that, “Studies indicate that besides compensation for tangible damages such as medical expenses, most victims of negligence want three things: a sense that their complaint is being taken seriously, a satisfactory explanation of what happened, and an assurance that steps are being taken so it won’t happen again to someone else.”2 In the medical field, doctors, attorneys and hospital administrators are discovering that liability costs and medical errors are down at the same time by giving a simple apology and seeking reconciliation rather than litigation.3 D. Michael Kratchman in is article “Anatomy of Mediating a Business Reconciliation” believes there is a psychology of divorcing business partners. What begins with a merging of aspirations and shared dreams eventually grows in different directions and reality becomes a disappointment. Kratchman finds that “the parties coming to mediation are comparable to disappointed spouses…to preserve the individual’s dream, the partner is blamed.
The partner becomes the enemy.”4 When multiple parties are in conflict it leads to a breaking of faith with one another. In a sense this looks similar to a marital separation or divorce – with both parties seeking justification, an acknowledgment of rights and an appropriation of responsibility (i.e.: who is to blame?). Conflict and Separation Conflict, whether corporately or personally, potentially brings about a point of separation in which various parties retreat and entrench. Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan, “do not think it is possible to do away with conflict. People will always have differences in values, goals, principles, and tactics that lead to conflict…Our experience suggests that when emotions get the
Kris Frieswick, “Say You’re Sorry,” CFO Magazine, May 01, 2001, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3870/is_5_17/ai_99599731 3 Debra Schmidt, “A Simple Apology Can Spare You A Lawsuit,” July 24, 2007, http://www.articlepros.com/business/customer_service/article-88017.html 4 D. Michael Kratchman, “Anatomy of Mediating a Business Reconciliation” http://library.findlaw.com/1999/Jul/1/130884.html
best of people, they often use fight-or-flight types of responses that enflame or prolong conflict.”5 These responses work to pull people apart, only to further embellish already existing preconceptions and misunderstandings. When left to their own devices, people will often fester
in their pain, hurt, distrust and frustration. Separation, though an oft-utilized coping mechanism, can be an unfortunate response. In his experience, Norman Shawchuck has found that “the church generally responds to conflict in one of two ways: it either tries to ignore or avoid it; or attributes the conflict to a lack of spirituality among its members and then tries to preach or pray it away.”6 Ignoring and/or avoiding are common forms of separation that one finds often in conflict situations within churches, businesses, and marriages. What can be brought to bear upon conflict that results in separation? Is there a way to bring individuals together in a biblical and sensible fashion? The words of the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth have much to say regarding this hopeful possibility. Paul brings clarity in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 to God’s intention to reconcile the world to Himself through His Son Jesus: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 Christ and Reconciliation Introduced in the letter of 2 Corinthians is the Apostle Paul’s most extensive treatment of one of his central themes: reconciliation. In verses 18-21 the verb ‘reconcile’ or the noun
Craig E. Runde and Tim A. Flanagan, Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2007), xiii. 6 Shawshuck, How to Manage Conflict in the Church, 12.
‘reconciliation’ occurs five times. Implicit is its connection to the person of Jesus Christ (the agent of reconciliation) with the endorsement of his Father (the source of reconciliation). It is through Christ’s death that God has reconciled the world to Himself. Jesus, the Sinless One, became sin so that mankind might become the righteousness of God. This relational blessing of reconciliation relies upon forgiveness of sins through the work of Jesus upon the cross of Calvary. Romans 5 reinforces this: “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have now received reconciliation.”7 Mankind has been ‘justified by his blood’ (Romans 5:9) and made right with the Father. Reconciliation was purchased in and ‘through Christ’ (1 Corinthians 5:18). In his commentary on 2 Corinthians, Paul Barnett believes “the phrase ‘through Christ’ is explained by the wider context as ‘through Christ’s death (vv. 14,15,21; cf. ‘we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son’ – Romans 5:10).8 Barnett goes on to assert that, “In 2 Cor. 5:18-20…the divine act of reconciliation is complete, certain, and unconditionally available” and that “Nothing could be clearer than that Christ – crucified and risen (vs. 14-15) – is the locus and the means of fulfilling God’s purposes for history, humanity, and the world and creation.”9 Seyoon Kim, in his well-researched work entitled “2 Cor. 5:11-21 and the Origins of Paul’s Concept of Reconciliation” summarizes the clear reality of Christ and his role in reconciliation: This overwhelming experience [Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus] came together with his new understanding of Jesus Christ’s death as God’s provision for
Romans 5:10,11 (New International Version) Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1997), 302. 9 Ibid. 302, 303.
atonement for humankind: ‘Christ died for our sins,’ that is, God ‘made him who knew no sin for us, so that we might become God’s righteousness in him’ (2 Cor. 5:21). It was God who provided the means of atonement for us, so that we might be restored to right
relationship…God’s overwhelming grace in his reconciliation of him to himself led Paul to interpret Christ’s death as God’s provision of the means of atonement and as God’s work of reconciliation of the world to himself. Thus arose the unique Pauline formulation of the doctrine of reconciliation.”10 From the bedrock doctrinal truth of Christ as our agent of reconciliation comes the unfolding ministry and message of reconciliation as given to ‘the reconciled’ by Father God. Ministry & Message of Reconciliation There is a degree of ambiguity that exists within 2 Corinthians 5 as to whom the word ‘us’ is referring to: Paul or all believers. To whom has God given the ministry of reconciliation? To whom has God entrusted the word (message) of reconciliation? Here there is no consensus among commentators. Some believe both references of ‘us’ are to the community of believers rather than of Paul exclusively. Others hold that the first ‘us’ reference is that of Paul while the second refers to believers. The reason for the ambiguity is that opposition, doubts, and criticism about Paul’s apostolicity necessitate the writing of the letter to Corinth. Thus some interpret the ministry and message of reconciliation to be an exclusive rebuttal of Paul and his fellow apostles. This, however, seems limiting in its scope, in that “he died for all” (2 Cor. 4:15) and that “God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 4:19). Therefore, this essay proposes that the ministry and message of reconciliation has been entrusted to all believers. We, like the Apostle Paul, are, by the death and resurrection of Jesus, now ambassadors of God. Michael S. Moore, in his book, Reconciliation: A Study of Biblical Families in Conflict, “believe[s] that the best way
Seyoon Kim, “2 Cor. 5:11-21 and the Origins of Paul’s Concept of Reconciliation,” Novum Tesamentum, vol. 39, Fasc. 4 (Oct. 1997). http://www.jstor.org/stable/1560974.
to become an expert in conflict resolution is first to become a minister of reconciliation.”11 We are ministers of reconciliation with both a distinct ministry and a direct message: be reconciled to God. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, teaches the principle of reconciliation when he says: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to
your brother; then come and offer your gift.”12 The disciples were being taught that they were to take the lead in pursuing reconciliation in the midst of conflict, regardless of who was responsible. Jesus, in his masterful teaching style, has given priority to reconciliation by challenging the listener to “leave it all there and go to your brother.” There is a sense of urgency in his words. Indeed the disciple of Jesus Christ must move with swiftness and purpose to resolve conflict in the most scriptural and sane fashion. Granted, conflict is untidy. So can be the process of reconciliation. Human failure and fear will often muddle the situation, causing each group or individuals to prolong the conflict, and in doing so, add to the problem. Time becomes a key factor. One must deal with unresolved conflict in a timely manner and with grace in order to avoid further pain and separation. With this in mind, John Dawson, the president of the International Reconciliation Coalition, has written extensively about what he calls Four Healing Steps: confession, repentance, reconciliation, and restitution. Confession begins by acknowledging hurtful actions. It involves simply stating the truth in regards to unjust or painful actions. Then a person moves to a point of repentance, which is a loving action of expressing sorrow and remorse for hurt caused. Thirdly, through reconciliation,
Michael S. Moore, Reconciliation: A Study of Biblical Families in Conflict, (College Press, Matthew 5:23,24 (New International Version)
one expresses and receives forgiveness and carefully pursues or seeks to restore intimate fellowship. Lastly, restitution is an attempt to restore that which has been destroyed and the seeking of justice where there is the opportunity to do so.13 In each of these healing steps there is a common denominator that I have come to
discover. When reconciliation is being pursued in any regard, I believe there is an important and intriguing connection to a very key component: death. Reconciliation and Death Along with 2 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul develops the concept of reconciliation in a number of his writings and in each of his references there is a corresponding larger context: death. • Romans 5:10 – “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son…” • Ephesians 2:14 – “For he himself is our peace…His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross [an instrument of death], by which he put to death their hostility.” • Colossians 1:19-22 - “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross…now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death…” • 1 Corinthians 7:11 – “But if she does [divorce her husband], she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.”
John Dawson, “What Christians Should Know About…Reconciliation,” 1998, http://www.reconcile.org
9 In each of these passages the context becomes clear and compelling. There must be death
for there to be true reconciliation. Of course, that has been firmly established within the theological framework of the Christian faith in that Jesus’ death purchased our reconciliation with the Father once and for all. But what has emerged in my understanding is the concept of reconciliation between individuals or groups involving death - not physically, but rather spiritually and emotionally. There must be a ‘death of self’ for there to be true reconciliation. Perhaps Jesus has not only given us an opportunity for reconciliation through his death but also a model of reconciliation through his death. He has taught us (along with the original disciples) to ‘leave our gifts at the altar and go to our brother or sister’ – whereby, communicating an abandonment or denial of sorts in order to achieve reconciliation. Jesus then went beyond the spoken word to actively demonstrate for the world how reconciliation is accomplished – through death. One must come to a point of denial and rejection of rights in order to bring about peace, rather than continually feeding the monster of anger, resentment, and retaliation. Runde and Flanagan elaborate on this phenomenon, “Rather than expressing one’s emotions in constructive ways, the individual attempts to invoke the ‘eye for an eye’ method to get even. In an ‘I’ll show you’ moment, the conflict escalates, and both parties are left to wonder what went wrong. The basic problem is that what one party sees as a step that brings the situation back to ‘even’ is interpreted by the other as a first-time strike or provocation. There is no getting even because each successive retaliation fuels a burgeoning inferno of conflict.”14 Sadly, this is how it goes…on and on…the cycle of pain and hurt continues, with each party adding new pieces of kindling to an already out of control fire. Unless someone stops fueling the inferno.
Runde and Flanagan, Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader, 98.
One must put to death the madness and pursue reconciliation, even if they determine that they are not the cause of the initial issue. Death can be so unfair! Marriage and Reconciliation Perhaps the most significant relationship that utilizes reconciliation is that of marriage. Yet, even in that regard many have a very low opinion of reconciliation. Some will not understand how “he ever took her back” or others will mockingly question, ‘Why did she go
back to him?’ Pastor David Chadwell believes many “are more likely to associate reconciliation with ‘accepting defeat’ or ‘hypocrisy’ rather than healing.”15 This is unfortunate because many (certainly not all) marriages can be reconciled as individuals are, first and foremost, reconciled to God, through the death of Jesus, and then reconciled to one another through the death of self. Conceivably, this is what the Apostle Paul had in mind in 1 Corinthians 7:11 when he gave the command for men and women that had chosen to divorce to “remain unmarried or else be reconciled.” Undoubtedly, returning to and reconciling with a spouse after a divorce or extended separation will involve death to self and pride. In the same way that a long-standing marital argument can often be resolved in a few moments with a simple “I am sorry”, so can a marriage be completely and sovereignly reconciled with individuals that are willing to die to the demands of their personal rights. An adaptation of Paul’s words in Romans 12:18 becomes the marriage motto: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you [the willing partner], live at peace with everyone [my spouse].” Peace can truly be the resulting tone and texture of any relationship, including marriage, that is reconciled both to God and to one another. This ‘shalom of God’ can mark even the most troublesome of relationships. The ‘shalom of God’ came at a high price – the shed blood of Jesus at his death on the cross of Calvary.
David Chadwell, “Jesus, Our Reconciliation,” http://www.westarkchurchofchrist.org/chadwell/gift/teaching/y2003q4l7.htm
Bibliography Barnett, Paul. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1997. Chadwell, David. “Jesus, Our Reconciliation.” http://www.westarkchurchofchrist.org/chadwell/gift/teaching/y2003q4l7.htm Dawson, John. “What Christians Should Know About…Reconciliation.” 1998. http://www.reconcile.org Frieswick, Kris. “Say You’re Sorry.” CFO Magazine, May 01, 2001, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3870/is_5_17/ai_99599731 Haugk, Kenneth C. Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal with Destructive Conflict. Mpls.: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988. Kim, Seyoon. “2 Cor. 5:11-21 and the Origins of Paul’s Concept of Reconciliation.” Novum Tesamentum, vol. 39, Fasc. 4. Oct. 1997. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1560974 Kratchman, D. Michael. “Anatomy of Mediating a Business Reconciliation” http://library.findlaw.com/1999/Jul/1/130884.html Marshall, IH. “The Meaning of ‘Reconciliation.’” Unity and Diversity in NT Theology. ed. R. Guelich. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978. Mitchell, M.M. Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation. Tubingen: Mohr, 1991.
Moore, Michael S. Reconciliation: A Study of Biblical Families in Conflict. College Press, 1994. Runde, Craig E., and Tim A. Flanagan. Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2007. Schmidt, Debra. “A Simple Apology Can Spare You A Lawsuit.” July 24, 2007, http://www.articlepros.com/business/customer_service/article-88017.html Shawchuck, Norman. How to Manage Conflict in the Church, vol. 1. Spiritual Growth Resources, 1983. Smedes, Lewis. Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984.
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